Predator's Refuge

By: Rosanna Leo


It came with being such a late bloomer. Most shape-shifters possessed a natural finesse, one that hadn’t quite finished inching its way into her system yet. Even as a full-grown woman, she still felt like an awkward girl some days. It ran in her family, apparently. Her mom had told her many stories of female family members who’d come into their own while in their twenties, rather than shifting like others did in their teens.

Her boss wasn’t being demeaning in bringing it up. He cared. He’d spent hours with her, coaching and developing her skills, and wouldn’t waste all his hard work with a baptism by fire. Ryland wasn’t that sort of manager. He’d want to make things comfy and cozy for her.

Well, comfy and cozy didn’t always do the job. This chance meant she had an opportunity to prove herself. The spirit of a lynx purred inside her. Self-sufficient and agile and dignified.

And she had the claws to prove it.

She needed more. For some time, she’d been aching for new challenges and eager to tackle new obstacles. She knew her job inside and out and couldn’t help feeling more important adventures hovered somewhere over her horizon. That feeling could only be her need to advance at the resort.

“I can handle myself, and I can handle anything this resort throws at me,” she affirmed, as much for her own benefit as for his. Silently, she tucked the sentence away as a little mantra, to be repeated later. “I meant it when I said I want to be your right-hand man. I mean, woman. You’ve trained me and shown me all the inner workings of the lodge. It’s time to cut the apron strings.” She paused for a quick breath. “It’s time to let baby bird fly, mama bird.”

His black eyebrows shot up. “Mama bird?”

“You know what I mean.”

He eyeballed her for a long moment, and then curled his lip in a half smile. “Fly, then. And if all goes well, Marci, I’ll make you assistant manager.”

“Pardon?” Joy bubbled up inside her. Even though she wanted to jump out of her seat, hug him, and let out a high-pitched squeal, she maintained her professionalism and smiled. What voice she could find emerged as a whisper. “Thank you.”

Ryland laughed as the corners of her mouth touched her ears. Surely they were touching her ears. “Oh, and baby bird. Promise me one thing.”

“Anything.”

“Don’t crap on my head as you fly over.”

She straightened in her seat, sitting so straight her head might have been touching the clouds. “There will be no crap on my watch.”

He stood and motioned to the door, and walked her toward reception. Shadows gripped his handsome features. “Oh, and a reminder. We have a new employee starting in two days. I told you about him a while back. Anton Gaspar?”

“The new mentor?”

“He’s the one. I’d prefer to be here to get him settled, but it can’t be helped. You’ll get him sorted in HR and introduce him around? He already knows what to do.”

“You bet.” She’d helped other new employees get oriented. She could do it with her eyes closed.

Ryland turned to her, peering into her eyes. “This might be a little different. Gaspar is from Hungary.”

“Is there a language barrier?”

“Nope. The man speaks better English than we do. He did a couple of years in one of those fancy English boarding schools. But being here might still be a bit of a culture shock.” He took a moment to scratch his head. “Anton Gaspar is not really like us small-town folk. He’s from an ancient line of Hungarian shape-shifters. He’s sort of, well, royalty.”

She snorted at what she thought was a joke. “What, like king of Hungary?”

“Nah. More like a prince, actually.” The twisted lines around his mouth illustrated his own bewilderment at the idea of putting a prince on payroll. “The shifters in his part of the world seem to appreciate the whole lineage business. It seems he’s actually a big deal where he comes from. Even grew up in a castle.”

“A castle? Why on earth is he coming here to work as a mentor to troubled teen shifters? He can’t be qualified, Ryland. Does he even tie his own shoes?”

He frowned at her. “Let’s not be too judgmental. Look, the man’s got a lot of interesting talents. He’s proficient in wrestling, fencing, and martial arts. I think our young guests will learn a lot from him. He could be an amazing role model. And Marci, he’s a tiger shifter. I don’t think we’ve ever had a tiger on the island before. Think of the tricks he’ll be able to teach the kids. Think of the muscle he’ll bring to the team.”

Muscle.

She was thinking of it. From the gurgle of greed emanating from her spirit animal, she could tell her lynx was already thinking about it a little too much. “Okay. That still doesn’t explain why a prince wants to work in a fishing lodge on Gemini Island. Shouldn’t he be, I don’t know, playing polo somewhere, or ordering his butler around?”

She forced the curl out of her lip. Having grown up in a democratic household, she didn’t hold much with royalty. She’d spent much of her life listening to her dad offer up very decided opinions on abolishing the monarchy, and frankly, she pretty much agreed. Her background, as strange as it might be to some, consisted of hardworking country stock. She didn’t really trust people who had Bentleys given to them on their sixteenth birthdays.